Friday, May 24, 2019
A day without travelling! We had previously arranged an Urban Adventure and were to meet our guide at 10 am at the “?” tavern where we had dinner last night. We left the hotel at 9:15 am and walked over to the tavern in plenty of time. Eke ordered a cup of tea while we were waiting for our guide and maybe other participants in the tour. Our guide Vlada came right at 10 am and informed us that we were the only ones doing the tour – a private tour!
We sat on the patio for a while and Vlada told us some more about the history of Serbia, and in particular, about Belgrade. It is not easy to remember the time-line of what happened when and who ruled the country during that certain time. We talked some more about the recent war and Vlada explained how tragic it was for so many people. They had lived with each other as neighbours, married into each other’s families, and now suddenly they were enemies. Lots of Serbians living in Croatia for years and sometimes generations, were forced to leave and move back to Serbia where they had no job, no house, nothing and had to start over.
Vlada expressed sadness about the whole situation and we could hear some bitterness in his voice that the West blamed Serbia for a lot of the atrocities. He said that war crimes were committed by both sides; he mentioned the existence of a concentration camp in Croatia. He also talked about the struggles between Kosovo and Serbia, Kosovo wants independence. He sounded disappointed that Europe and the West supports Kosovo and even bombed Serbia in 1999. Kosovo has a lot of natural resources and many Serbians live there. He believes that the separation will go through.
We started the tour with a visit to the palace where Princess Ljubica lived. She was married to Prince Milos Obrenovic who had many mistresses. Ljubica had one of them killed. Her husband became afraid of her so he moved across town. He contemplated killing his wife but she was pregnant with his child and he decided against it. The building is a museum now and shows furniture from the Ottoman period, the 18th and 19th century up to the first part of the 20th century. It was done very tastefully.
We crossed the street and visited the St. Michael Orthodox Church. Vlada explained more about the customs when attending the service. Men and women are separated; women standing on the left of the middle path looking at a painting of the mother Mary, and men on the right, looking at a painting of Jesus.
From there we walked up the street and noticed the National Bank (where the Treasury is located). It is a very old building with a massive door. Entering the building, you go through a security check like at the airport and announce your presence at a booth with a concierge. We couldn’t go any further inside because there was a meeting in the conference room. Brian noticed the deeply worn step at the entrance. One spot was worn down and hollowed out from the many feet that have stepped through the door.
We continued our walk on the Knez Mihailova street (Prince Michael Street). Vlada pointed out a triangle (small) monument in the middle of the pedestrian-only street. It is the symbol of the Secret Society of the Masons and is placed right in front of the Academy of Science. The top of the triangle is indented a bit and signifies that it is not easy to get to the top; certainly not in the Masons nor in the Academy. Only a few people are chosen as members of the Academy.
By then it was time for a cup of tea/coffee. We found a coffee shop that is part of a chain owned by a Turkish company connected with the wife of President Erdoban. The president visited Belgrade recently and “dropped in” at the coffee shop. We enjoyed the rest with a cup of hot beverage and a sweet.
We left the main street and found our way through the former Jewish section of the city to the market. It was a pleasure to look at the fresh vegetables and fruit; especially the strawberries! They are so juicy, large and the taste is so deliciously sweet!
Vlada brought us to the cheese stall at the market. The woman gave us 5 or 6 different cream cheeses to taste. One of them was the famous Kaymak cream cheese. It tasted great. There were some that tasted almost like butter. Vlada explained that they are made from the cream that comes to the top of the milk. The hard goat cheese was sharper and also great. Vlada tried to pay for the tasting – he had a hard time convincing the woman to take the money.
We had the same welcoming attitude with the men at the smoked meat kiosk. We tasted the small smoked meat and fat pieces – almost like bacon bits; these were mostly from beef. They tasted delicious – remember it was lunch time by then! He also gave us some beef and pork slices of smoked meat. The butcher spoke very good English. The meat comes from farms located in the Golden Pine mountains. Again, he didn’t want any money either! We felt really honoured to be treated with such kindness while not buying anything!
Leaving the market – not before we bought strawberries and cherries – we walked through the Skadarska Street in the Bohemian district. This a very old cobble stone street lined with restaurants and outdoor patios. Almost every lace has lots of beautiful flowers outside and cute names such as “One Hat” and “Lazy Day – time to relax”.
A little further up the street was a young man with a small “table” selling different kinds of Rakia liqueurs with the opportunity to taste them first – for a cost of course. This was part of our tour and we tasted a shot. Brian had the pear and Eke the raspberry. These liqueurs are made from fruit. We both liked it and bought two small bottles of the raspberry Rakia as gifts.
As the last event of our tour we were treated to “Cevapi”(pronounced Chevapi) – a street food. Cevapi is a large bun filled with four small beef sausages. The added accoutrements are the famous Kaymak cream cheese, onions, lettuce and a spicy sauce. (medium for us). That was a large late lunch. It tasted good although Eke couldn’t eat all that bread!
We chatted some more about different issues and Vlada told us that the prime minister of Serbia is a woman and gay. He didn’t really elaborate much on the status of the Gay Rights movement in Serbia – only that they do have a Pride Parade now in Belgrade and that after a few years it doesn’t need a lot of police protection anymore.
By then Vlada had spent more than five and a half hours with us on a tour that was supposed to last four hours. We enjoyed our time with him and he responded that he had enjoyed it also. We said goodbye to Vlada thanking him for his time and company.
Right then Christine and Mike walked by and the four of us continued towards our hotel. Once in our room, we sat down for a bit and then Eke went down to the lounge to update the trip journal on the computer and have a cup of tea. Brian wanted to have a nap. After Eke had gone out for a walk, we went to the small take-out shop next to the hotel and ordered a crepe with Euro cream and banana on one and pineapple on the other. We sat outside at the sidewalk table and were joined briefly by Tracy and Glenn who had taken the bus to Zemun and had a delicious meal.
Time to call it a day and start packing for the next day travelling to Sarajevo.